Effects of a Mastectomy (Part 2)

… cont.

how did a mastectomy feel?

The mastectomy removed the tumor, the breast tissue and all the nerves connected with it. I was unaware if any sensation in my chest would return. My procedure was the mastectomy and tissue expander inserted in the same operation. I cannot voice how a mastectomy by itself feels. It is considered not as painful nor as lengthy of recovery due to being simpler by nature than both processes done at once. Be that as it may, my surgery recovery was painful at first. Surprisingly dullishly agonizing. ‘Dullish’ because my whole left side was numb. That fact caught me completely off-guard — if any doctor had forewarned me I’d forgotten. Upon my first follow up with Dr. Korentager, he did say the inner pectoral muscle tissue of the mastectomy site needed a chance to heal from the initial surgery. By this time I understood why.

I have devoted many paragraphs in preceding and later chapters to explain that feeling in detail.

The chest muscles must stretch around the tissue expander as the 50 cc’s of saline fluid were injected weekly prior to the implants transfer surgery. (Scheduled for mid summer) The reconstruction timetable has been much longer, though my doctors never tried telling me otherwise. They simply did their jobs throughout the whole process and I knew my progress would go according to how my own body and spirit healed … my long run depended on the short runs, not set in stone now but progressing how I felt … breathe.

My skin stretched with each injection, much the same as stretching from breastfeeding. A breastfeeding mother knows the uncomfortable feeling of breasts full of milk, the painful urgency to empty the milk. I recall that tenderness; however, it could be relieved by a suckling baby, whereas the tissue expander stretching could not. But at least by that time I had progressed beyond my depression so I could stand to think about the breastfeeding comparison.

Each injection it stretched more, tight as a drum. And I mean solid-as-a-football-tight. Hurt worse than the mastectomy did! As the muscles healed, they cramped. Intense, sharp pain much the same as labor pains or a shin splint. Valium was prescribed to alleviate the cramps, to relax the chest muscles, then as my pain eased I slept better once I got accustomed to the initial injections. That was scheduled for twelve weeks. It felt like forever.

Mary Kate dealt with other women’s reconstruction, and mine was no different, no more painful. Not able to know the extent of my pain firsthand was irrelevant because she was so very attentive to me. My mastectomy no less of a healing process than it was for others. She’s definitely in the right profession, most respectful and full of humor. Her impish smile was very contagious kidding me about going bigger with new boobs. It was great to laugh in her office.

In her care I felt at ease amidst a hospital of families, patients due for other surgeries, those teens and womenfolk whose unknowns were just as valid as mine, and those breast cancer patients, women most assuredly reeling from more intense treatment than I was. Shelly told me their ages ranged from late teens to older than me. The idea of having a double mastectomy and chemo and radiation before I’d turn twenty is mortifying. My heart ached for those young gals. Nevertheless, no doubt the doctor/patient environment was the most comfortable I’d ever been in. I felt privileged in their hands.

how did I feel?

Feelings ran the gamut of physical, emotional and physiological. In retrospect, I was like a car being hauled to the repair shop for an overhaul. And that caused the emotional havoc. I was a mess. So emotional I felt compelled to spell it all out ‘on paper’ for everyone to read how fucking tragic every facet of breast cancer feels. I would be fine — but I didn’t know it yet. Like as a child falling off my bike, I got back on and rode home crying for Mom to bandage up my bloody knee. Like a teenage girl becomes a woman, who innocently starts her monthly period. My daughter refers to it as her monster, subsequently women all have dealt with that damn monster and will be alright, but in those first months we don’t know it yet, harsh as it sounds. We all must go through it. That is a woman’s life. We just deal. That’s how it felt to get breast cancer. Just something else not by my choice to deal with … So pardon me, I’m intentionally being redundant to jam my point  … I write graphically, what’s the point if I don’t? I express the woman side of having a terrible disease because I feel like it. Because I’m not Wikipedia. An astute science student in a prior life, my condition was no longer incomprehensible, the gravity of how all of this could affect my life.

Images …

I don’t have many photos during the first month  because I assure you I was not up to taking and showing selfies. Real photos of breast cancer are very gross and I got queasy viewing those few medical images I found online (be forewarned) to satisfy my curiosity. For you parents who let your kids use your tablet or PC, I cannot stress enough this content is not within a young reader’s understanding; this video of breast cancer images reveals images horrible for adults too. Out of curiosity, I looked at a few too many online photos that made me sick to my stomach. All those graphic images were a bit too much to browse through and I stared at them ad nauseum, to know that shit had been inside me. And worse, that if left there, it would ultimately kill me. Seeing these graphic images of the real thing in this vid was a shock to me, as much as I studied decay and slimy frogs in biology in college. But this was real. And inside me. Luckily, or by the grace of God, my breast cancer was not as invasive or massive as these images I found. I felt bittersweet relief. And horrified.

And, open this link for the dudes’ breast cancer images.

Now y’all are totally grossed out right? Sorry, but seeing is believing. Now you got a visual of what the hell this is all because of. Now return your eyes and settle your gut down…

At first all the cancer thoughts were too horrific for me. Nevertheless, I could not imagine to endure such despondency forever. My impulse is to being a good-natured Christian woman in that I rebelled against poignant thoughts that filled me with such lugubrious melancholy. Couldn’t take it. I’ve had a lifetime of heroics, now facing down death from the inside out, innate will to live kicked in. My survival of breast cancer once and for all really wasn’t complicated as much as utterly no other option. Non-negotiable. It wasn’t even a conscious thought. I told y’all I’m a stubborn, hard-headed Irish-German-Indian. Only time I give up a fight I’ll be dead. I became very driven with the gumption I had had drummed into my noggin growing up. Hmm, I learned something – my folks’d be proud.

Dealing with the day to day struggle of loss of my strength, I’ve cried more than I have in years. Granted, not always in fear, but the onslaught of my own moodiness kicked me in the butt much more than two childbirths and a pneumothorax. Stubbornness having bronchial pneumonia, meanwhile not getting proper medical treatment, not dragging my sick ass to the doctor, I paid for it years later with my chest feeling like a tree fell on my chest — or a truck, whichever. Serious, however non-life-threatening consequence, I recovered. And I adjusted as simple par for course with motherhood and stopped smoking, the silver lining as a result of the collapsed lung. The bronchial trachea in my lungs now show minimal scarring only detectable with an MRI from having pneumonia.

[The doctors at University of Missouri Hospital in Columbia had no conclusion why my lung collapsed. I since learned with my brother’s research that we have the FLCN mutation gene]

Everything is tied together. The short of it is

I get it. Some. (I’ll expand on the genetics in a later chapter.) After exhaustive research to all known Medical causes, I concluded there was not so much rhyme or reason that I got breast cancer since I tested negative for the BRCA1 mutation.That one, the dreaded clincher didn’t apply to me. In fact when I asked, Dr. Jew assured me my breast cancer was more attributed to environmental than inherited issues. (And the genetic test to refute or conclude definitively only cost $10,000. Ouch.) Genetic mutation genes are fascinating research but only affected 3.3% of my inheritable breast cancer tendency due to my FLCN gene. inconclusive as cause for alarm. (still researching this).

After an hour long phone call with my brother and emails with my surgeon regarding the newly discovered FLCN gene, I am merely aware of the myriad of possibilities which causes breast cancer. The fact that my oncologist confirmed that my mother died of metastatic breast cancer affected my ignorant belief that I would not lose the other breast without the effectiveness of Tamoxifen, not counting the whatchamacallit gene. Reading studies’ results in medical journals convinced me of the necessity of Tamoxifen. I don’t distrust its use, nor question my prognosis made by Drs. Jew and Elia to use it for me. However, and it’s a big but…  I am not a scientist. It’s one thing to read about someone else but it’s another worm entirely to put yourself under the microscope. Genetics is huge and like Mars exploration — it presents a big I wonder IF.

breast cancer mutation gene


I was initially diagnosed with Stage 2 (IDC) Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. Then Hallelujah! the pathology report was reduced to Stage 1 after the mastectomy tissue and three lymph nodes were analyzed. See how easy it is to read the facts? But I read my copy of the pathology report with a pounding heart. Then my husband and I heaved a huge sigh of relief to get on with the months of reconstruction.


next up:  Mastectomy Affected – Me ‘n My Husband



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